As the Election Commission (EC) sounded the poll bugle on Wednesday by announcing February 4 as the voting day for Punjab, the reactions said a lot about which party stands where.
Excitement was palpable in the Aam Admi Party (AAP), the new challenger in the state elections. Party convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is in storm-the-barn mode now, is camping in Punjab and issuing statements to whip up a poll frenzy. As the stakes go up, Kejriwal’s attacks on Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh have become close and personal.
The first to go off the block in naming nominees for elections, the AAP has already declared candidates for 114 of the 117 seats, including five by its ally Lok Insaaf Party of the Bains brothers of Ludhiana. The party has restored internal peace after facing a quake of revolts and allegations of ‘tickets on sale’ that almost derailed its campaign. It also claimed to have a “clear lead” over rivals, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress, in door-to-door campaigns by volunteers and public meetings by its leaders and candidates.
The SAD, too, has made a headstart in terms of campaign and candidates. The party president, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has shuffled candidates in as many as 33 seats, has announced names for 89 of the 94 seats that the party contests even its ally, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that fields its candidates on the remaining 23 seats is yet to open its cards. The SAD claimed that chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir have already held sangat darshans, rallies and workers' meetings in 52 constituencies, and the party will now ramp up its campaign in the remaining seats.
The Congress, meanwhile, seems to be competing with itself when it comes to distribution of tickets. It created history of sorts by announcing candidates on 77 seats before the announcement of polls. But, with exactly a month to go for the polls, it finds itself in an unenviable position. While Kejriwal is camping in Punjab, Amarinder is busy in Delhi to clear names for the remaining 40 seats, all of them “contentious”.
The party has tied itself up in knots over tickets to Akali turncoats, kin of leaders, youth and women with the underlying theme of “winnability”. Once the remaining tickets are announced, the party will be racing against the clock to placate or tackle rebels.
Lead in campaign
AAP leader Dugesh Pathak said their party has the “highest visibility”.
“We had announced our candidates well in advance and dealt with the dissidents. We have three times the number of volunteers than the Congress or the SAD-BJP, and these volunteers have already completed 10 rounds of door-to-door campaign since April 2015,” he said.
“We are showing 40 videos on our policies and programmes in every constituency, every day, on projectors. Our leaders and candidates, including Bhagwant Mann, have held more than 1,000 rallies and public meetings already,” he further claimed.
“Our campaign is on track while the Congress will be busy fighting dissent as its most contentious 40 seats have yet to be announced,” he added.
SAD’s A to D
SAD spokesman Manjinder Singh Sirsa said the party, which has just five more candidates to announce, has constituencies that are “sure wins” where the party “need not worry”.
“We have categorised the constituencies into A, B+, B, C and D, depending on the winnablity. We don’t need to make extra effort in those falling in the ‘A’ category. We are in a winning position in B+, and can win those in B. It is these two we will be focusing on,” he explained. In last-hour rush, the Badal father-son duo has also showered memorials, free pilgrimages and jobs to woo different sections of voters.
- SAD: 94: 89
- Ally BJP: 23: 0
- Congress: 117: 77
- AAP: 112: 109
- Ally LIP: 5: 5
The Congress, whose two flagship campaigns, ‘Coffee with Captain’ and ‘Halke vich Captain’, have been overtaken by Amarinder’s recent roadshows and poll promises — 50 lakh smartphones with one-year free data and calling, one job per family, and farm debt waiver — appears to be losing the momentum that it built after AAP got mired in controversies and SAD was struggling with revolts by its MLAs who were denied tickets and were getting onto the Congress ship.
Its campaign is apparently sputtering again over tickets.
Amarinder does not think so. “The BJP has not announced even a single candidate. The AAP and SAD too are still to announce the complete list. We have finalised candidates on the remaining 40 seats,” he said, adding, “The names will be declared after the meeting of the party’s central election committee headed by Sonia Gandhi that will meet on January 7-8. It is no way hampering our campaign.”
Amarinder will return to Punjab on Thursday evening, and sources in party strategist Prashant Kishor’s team said he will unveil a couple of “vote-catching” campaigns, and the party will also get a “booster shot” by the entry of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. But the poll script will depend on how the Congress manages the aftermath of declaring names on its contentious seats while keeping the campaign going strong.